A controversial professor who critics say is a feminist ideologue is instructing cadets at the United States Air Force Academy this year on gender issues as the military attempts to curb sexual assault.
Dr. Chris Kilmartin, a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington, has described violence as “a men’s issue,” called abuse by men “the single most serious health problem for women in the United States,” and said the sexes are not “opposite.” Critics say he has embellished statistics to support his teachings.
Kilmartin also told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni last month that comments such as telling a boy that he “throws like a girl” represent “the cultural undercurrent of rape.”
Kilmartin is teaching two sections of a course titled, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Men and Masculinity” at the Air Force Academy (AFA) and will assist with violence prevention efforts in a volunteer role during the 2013-2014 academic year. He will receive $95,997 in private funds to teach at the AFA this year through the academy’s visiting professor program.
Kilmartin has worked with the military on sexual abuse issues before. He developed a curriculum of sexual assault prevention for the Naval Academy; helped write a training film for the Army; and spoke at the Army summit on sexual assault and military bases in San Antonio, Texas.
Critics say his views on gender ignore successful military practices and derive legitimacy from faulty surveys and selectively used statistics.
“He doesn't seem to notice the inconsistency of a philosophy that claims to protect women from harm and sexual abuse, but also advocates exposure to the worst forms of violence and sexual abuse—at the hands of the enemy in war,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a former member of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, in an email.
“I agree with much of what he writes; men should not demean women with sexually suggestive objects and activities anywhere, any time. Character is defined by what you do when no one is looking,” she added.
Donnelly said the military’s removal of a ban on direct ground combat jobs for women, which Kilmartin supports, could result in lower physical standards for both female and male troops and encourage cultural acceptance of violence against women both in the military and society more broadly.
Violence as a “men’s issue”
“I challenge you to tell me one way in which the sexes are opposite,” Kilmartin wrote in a piece for the website of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), which describes itself as “pro-feminist, gay-affirmative, anti-racist, enhancing men’s lives.”
“Calling men and women opposites is like calling an IBM computer the opposite of an Apple. And ‘battle of the sexes’ implies that men and women are at war. We will never solve this problem until we work together and emphasize our commonalities rather than our differences,” he wrote.
“Violence against women is a men’s issue, and men have to take a leadership role in building a more positive male community,” he wrote later in the post.
Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and former philosophy professor, said in an email that Kilmartin’s focus on the purported violent attributes of men is misplaced.
“[Healthy young men] assert their masculinity in ways that require physical and intellectual skills and self-discipline. In American society, the overwhelming majority of healthy, normal young men don’t batter, rape, or terrorize women; they respect them and treat them as friends,” she said.
“Kilmartin appears to have overlooked the critical distinction between healthy and aberrational masculinity. He takes aberration as the norm. That is why it is so troubling that the United States Military is drawing so heavily on his expertise. He is an expert in gender ideology—not masculinity,” she said.
Kilmartin defended his work in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon and said he “care[s] deeply about men.”
“I’ve been hearing this criticism for 25 years that ‘you don’t care about men.’ I care deeply about men,” he said.
He also said violence must be viewed through the lens of gender.
“These two facts are indisputable—most men are not violent,” he said. “But most violent people are male. Males commit 90 percent of the violent crimes in the U.S.”
“Violence is undeniably a gender issue,” he added.
He said his courses strive to help cadets “understand how masculinity and sexism operate” and challenge them to apply gender studies to their roles as leaders and managers of personnel.
Kilmartin was selected to teach the courses because of his expertise and prior experience with the military, said Maj. Brus Vidal, director of public affairs for the AFA, in an email.
“He is one of 16 Distinguished Visiting Professors here this academic year and his contributions, along with his 15 other visiting colleagues, are greatly valued as we work together to produce lieutenants for our Air Force and for our Nation here at the Air Force's Academy,” Vidal said.
Critics question surveys, statistics
The military has faced intense media and congressional pressure since the release of the Department of Defense’s 2012 annual report on sexual assault in the military. An estimated 26,000 active duty members said in surveys that they experienced “unwanted sexual contact” last year, compared to 19,300 in 2010.
“Combating sexual assault and sexual harassment within the ranks is our number one priority,” Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in June.
However, critics have questioned the reliability of the surveys and noted that sexual assault rates in the military have declined over time.
University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, in a statement she provided for inclusion in a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, said rates of unwanted sexual contact “dropped dramatically” in 2010, by 35 percent for women and 50 percent for men.
The 2012 survey reported incidences of unwanted sexual contact among 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men, an increase compared to 2010. Yet the 2012 rates were still 10 percent below 2006 levels for women and 33 percent below 2006 levels for men, Heriot said.
Additionally, the 2012 survey found that 96 percent of women and 97 percent of men received sexual assault training in the last 12 months.
“Unless these training programs were actually encouraging sexual assault, which doesn’t seem likely, it makes sense to look for problems in data gathering and processing before one jumps to the conclusion that sexual assault rates are getting worse,” Heriot wrote.
Kilmartin told the Free Beacon that he believes the military does a good job of instilling restraint in its troops to discourage aberrant behavior. Yet the services must translate that discipline into an atmosphere of respect toward women to prevent sexual assault, he said.
The lack of respect for women extends beyond the military, Kilmartin said.
“In some ways it’s not peculiar to military culture. Through American culture in general we raise boys with the sense that the worst thing we can say is that a boy ‘throws like a girl.’ We teach that acting feminine diminishes them in some ways,” he said.
“It’s not a big leap to go from that to having disdain for women themselves.”
However, experts dispute the statistics often employed by feminists like Kilmartin to suggest a culture of male violence.
“Men's violence is the single most serious health problem for women in the United States. It causes more harm than accidents, muggings, and cancer combined,” Kilmartin wrote in NOMAS.
“For women aged 15-44, an estimated 50% of emergency room visits are the result of violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands, or ex-boyfriends.”
AEI scholar Sommers contested a similar statistic in a 2009 exchange on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website with Nancy K.D. Lemon, a law professor at the University of California Berkeley and author of Domestic Violence Law.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Justice Department statistics [Lemon] cites to demonstrate her book's accuracy are not about the 40 million women who visit emergency rooms, but rather about the approximately 550,000 women who come to emergency rooms ‘for violence-related injuries,’” Sommers wrote in a response.
“Of that group, approximately 35 percent were attacked by intimates. Far less than 1 percent of the women seeking medical care in emergency rooms are there because of domestic violence.”
Kilmartin told the Free Beacon he respects men and that “most military people are really good people.” Yet more need to act like Col. Mark Ciero, who walked out of a recent comedy show at an Air Force base in England after hearing sexual jokes that he considered “adverse to [military] culture,” Kilmartin said.
The comedian, Mitch Fatel, told the Air Force Times that he made sure his act was scheduled as an adult show late in the evening and that it “scares” him “to think that these people, who we are entrusting with our lives, we really don’t think that they’ll be able to discern that that’s not OK, that that’s a joke.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the nature of Gail Heriot's statement to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.